PROVIDENCE — Carmen Medeiros had a feeling that something was wrong with the package from Newport, Tenn.
As owner of the UPS store in Bristol, Medeiros said she knows her customers in this small town. This package came from someone and someplace unfamiliar, sent to a stranger using the store’s address.
“It was a gut feeling: ‘This doesn’t make sense,’ ” Medeiros remembered thinking when the package arrived in May. “Let me make some calls.”
Medeiros first contacted the sender, an 85-year-old woman in Tennessee, who said that someone claiming to be an attorney had called and said her grandson needed money for bail. The “attorney” had instructed her to mail $5,200 cash to the address of the UPS store.
Medeiros told the woman that it was probably a scam. As Medeiros called the Rhode Island State Police, two different men came in looking for the package.
State Police arrested Julio J. Feliciano, a 32-year-old Boston man, and charged him with felony larceny and conspiracy in connection with the package. The other man wasn’t located.
Now, Feliciano is facing federal charges connected with more alleged victims.
Since Feliciano’s arrest six months ago, investigators with the State Police and Homeland Security have discovered other people across the country who were duped, allegedly by him and an accomplice, according to an affidavit. Authorities say Feliciano was using different addresses throughout Rhode Island to pick up packages of cash.
Feliciano was arraigned last Friday in US District Court in Providence on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. He was released to live at his mother’s apartment in Dorchester. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
These so-called family and friend imposters target all ages but are hitting older people the hardest. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission found that people age 70 and older reported median individual losses of $9,000.
Suspects use the “grandparent scam” to prey upon the elderly, by posing as a police officer, or attorney, or sometimes even the grandchild. The callers are urgent — a grandchild is in trouble and needs money for bail or hospital bills, or to pay legal bills.
They will urge their victims to follow their instructions to send money, often thousands of dollars, to a remote address.
Once the money is gone, so are the scammers.
After arresting Feliciano in May, the State Police put out a statewide bulletin, to see if there were similar incidents. They also obtained a search warrant for the two cellphones Feliciano was carrying and saw conversations with an accomplice on WhatsApp, according to the affidavit.
They found other victims, the affidavit said.
An 83-year-old man in Illinois sent $9,000 cash by FedEx to a Walgreens in Coventry in May. He told investigators that a caller told him that his grandson had injured people in a drunken-driving crash in Wisconsin and needed bail. A man posing as his grandson even got on the phone and urged him to send money, according to the affidavit.
A 75-year-old man in Virginia sent $9,500 cash by FedEx to a Walgreens in Cranston in May, after a caller told him that his nephew had been charged with drunken driving in New York City. The caller followed up by asking for another $9,000, saying someone died in the crash. By then, the victim knew it was a scam, according to an affidavit.
A 94-year-old woman in North Carolina sent a total of $13,000 by UPS to a bungalow in Providence’s Charles neighborhood in April. She thought she was bailing out a grandson who’d caused an accident that injured a pregnant woman whose fetus died, according to an affidavit.
An 80-year-old man in Oklahoma emptied his bank accounts and sent $8,000 and two T-shirts by FedEx to a multifamily house in Olneyville in October. He’d also gotten a call that his grandson had caused an accident that injured a pregnant woman. He was told his grandson needed the T-shirts because he had a bloody nose.
The authorities also found a reference to another package sent in early May to a Walgreens in Bristol. The person who sent it is unknown.
Until a Globe reporter called Wednesday, the owner of the UPS store in Bristol hadn’t known that her “gut feeling” ended up triggering a federal case.
“I’m kind of shocked that it got as big as it did,” Medeiros said. “I’m just glad I was there to help.”